Thursday, May 21, 2015

Habit 2: Witnessing the Energy of Longing

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Habit 2 in Georgie Fear's Lean Habits For Lifelong Weight Loss: Mastering 4 Core Eating Behaviors to Stay Slim Forever is basically this:
"Commit to feeling steady hunger for 30 to 60 minutes before each meal."
Further in the chapter, we get more information in this choice quote:
"It may be helpful to remind yourself that hunger is not an emergency, and that feeling appropriately hungry for each meal is your assurance that you're eating just the right amount for fat loss."


I travel back, backwards in time, to my beloved babysitters' house.  I remember so clearly the summer days when the clock would trudge between 11am and noon, when lunch was served.  I can feel myself standing near the refrigerator, getting another drink.  Wondering when lunch will come, wondering what I'll get to eat.

My Dad, bless his heart, likes to say that my favorite food when I was a kid was cheerios with ketchup.  My guess is that, had I some different choices on the menu, that might not have been the case.  Now, with my minimal research into nutrition I know that I respond very well to protein, and lots of it, first thing in the morning.  It sets me up for an amazing day.  However, at this time, I was a child of the 80s, when the low fat diet was all the rage (but please, a few more servings of margerine soaked pasta over here, ok?)

So come 11am, I'm queasy with hunger, blood-sugar crashed, feeling unstable.  The word "hangry" hadn't been invented yet, and I was also a people pleaser and would never had lashed out at grown-ups.  I just felt gnawing hunger on a regular basis, and this developed into practiced anxiety and fear in my nervous system.  For more about stress and the autonomic nervous system, check out this post.

Deep fear and anxiety around hunger.  OK... so that's what we're dealing with here.  We're working to unwire about 35 years of reaction based on these early childhood memories.


For many of us who deal with compulsive food issues (both on the indulging and restricting side), we had family situations that were unsafe in some way.  Maybe a parent was unpredictable or frequently angry or abusive.  In these kind of situations, full emotional expression was not on the docket.  We spent so much of our time "reading the room" and trying to avoid angry outbursts that any emotional "bursts" (read: normal feelings) were dangerous.

This kind of wiring (also in the nervous system... fight or flight) is extremely tricky.  Many people develop compulsive behaviors to cope with strong feelings that arise, because feeling the feelings, expressing the feelings, in any way, is not safe.  

Feelings include - fear, anxiety, anger, happiness, joy, frustration, boredom, and more.  If a compulsive behavior helps you NOT FEEL the feelings to their full extent, you've somehow protected yourself from the scary consequences of feeling that feeling - like getting screamed at.

However, as a grown-up, I, at least, live in my own house, with my family, and have few people screaming at me.  In fact, I can't think of a single person in my day-to-day life who would treat me like that, including my parents, whom I both have developed loving relationships with.

But taking away my compulsive overeating, I have to feel my strong feelings.  I have to witness the energy of longing.  I have to feel the deeper hungers... for love, for understanding, for deep friendship, for fulfilling work, for some of us... for connection with the Divine (as you understand it). The Sufi poet Hafiz (or Hafez) always nails the quest for the Beloved Divine connection:

“Every child has known God,

Not the God of names,
Not the God of don’ts,
Not the God who ever does Anything weird,
But the God who knows only 4 words.
And keeps repeating them, saying:
“Come Dance with Me , come dance.” 
― Hāfez
How often do we experience that kind of joy?  For me, my daily grind offers me joy on a limited basis.  I'm working on it (especially seeing the joy of the mundane as the blessing it is)... but I think we all struggle with joy in this hustle-bustle consumer's paradise of modern day America.


As an emotional eater for many years, I was scared when I saw this habit!  I decided to continue to eat 3-4 meals a day (habit 1) and just watch.  I decided to pare down a meal that I was having on a regular basis - my breakfast.

One of the key safety factors was having food on hand for lunch and knowing that I was truly safe in experimenting with my hunger.

For breakfast, I'd been having my Raw Meal Shake, a small low fat greek yogurt, and a swirl of coconut oil in the yogurt.  As I got curious about this habit, and felt ready to experiment with my hunger (that alone probably took a week), I decided to drop one thing at a time and see what happened.  Another factor to my success, strangely, was that I was nursing a sprained ankle and not working out at lunch, so I had extra time and bandwidth to dedicate to this experiment.

One day, I pared down the tablespoon of coconut oil in the yogurt.  Wow... I'm still not hungry till 1pm!

The next day, or maybe two days later, I took a HUGE RISK and didn't eat the yogurt.  This felt like a huge risk.  I paid close attention (but went on with my daily work as usual).  I was shocked that I didn't really feel anything in my stomach till after noon.

Wait, you've gotta be kidding me.  This 300 cal nutrient rich shake is lasting me till 12:30 or so before I feel true sensation in my stomach?  Holy moly.  This shows me how much I've been eating on a regular basis beyond my true caloric needs.

You see letting hunger be a guide in learning what's right for your EXACT METABOLISM right now is a huge revalation!  Hunger goes from being the enemy to being the friend that's going to get me exactly what I've deeply longed for - which is a body that is not overweight and can function in the world, chase after my kid, do all the yoga I like, and not experience joint damage.

My grown-up hunger, after a shake that supplies 34 g protein, a 40% recommended daily fiber intake, and is pure veggie?!?!  It's creepy crawly stomach sensation hunger.  It is not blood sugar crashing hangry hunger.

I'd also like to add that I do not think everyone should run out and buy this shake.  This happens to work for my lifestyle because I have to be at work early and have a kid and I just can't get my yoga done in the am and get to work on time while eating eggs and spinach, which is my favorite breakfast of all time (especially if there's a slice of bacon thrown in there....)

So once I had a breakfast amount that seemed to satisfy me for a good few hours (shake at 8:30 or 9am)  but left me feeling antsy and wanting to eat between 12-1, I wrapped up the experiment.  The last thing I do to burn some "hungry" minutes, since the experiment is over.... is that I often have a lunch appointment of some kind.  Therapy, acupuncture, the gym, a pilates class...  I'm always back at my desk and ready to DIG IN to lunch at 1pm.  I'm never distracted by hunger during these activities but am always aware of how I am really ready to eat at 1.  So I do NOT advise sitting around wallowing in hunger once you've got a sense of it.  There's no need to torture yourself!

Stay tuned on what IS torture for me, which is cooking dinner without eating dinner before it hits the table!  Now that is still torture for me.

I think I'll bring this to a close... congratulations, reader, for making it this far.

Open up to witnessing the longing!  Join me... let me know how your practice is going in the comments, and please share.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

The Seven Realms and the Gayatri Class

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It's almost impossible to write about this class... so here's a blog-post-arm-chair stroll through it.  It is one of the most profound classes I've ever experienced.  I taught it, but I've practiced it as well.

I'll assume you can chant the Gayatri (what a blessing!!!)

Start in a comfortable seated posture.  We'll first identify the central channel by walking down the front and up the back.  Attention to the third eye, the pit of the throat, just below the ribcage, navel, 2" below the navel, perineal floor... then to the sacrum, the mid-low back across from the navel, the center of the back at the bottom tips of the shoulder blades, T1, base of the skull, crown...

Then inhale down the central channel... exhale upwards.

Chant the seven realms Om bhuh... all the way up to Ogm Satyam.  Hands on cakra points.  Repeat chant at each cakra point 10x or until there is vibratory sensation, then move upwards.  Pitch constant.  Include Ogm Satyam gesture.

Chant the Gayatri 3x... increasing volume.

Come to the floor for apanasana.  Enjoy the sensation of the Earth supporting your arms, trunk, skull and feet before picking up to prep for asana.  Repeat 5x... then chant Om Bhuh on exhale 5x.  Connect again with the Earth.

Pelvic tilts for second cakra... connecting with the water.  Let the breath initiate the pelvic tilts and hear the breath as the waves lapping the shore.  After five silent reps to develop the bhavana, chant Om Bhuvah on exhale.

For the structure, a few repetitions of urdhva prasarita padasana, one leg at a time, with a little pointing and flexing at the ankle in the mix.

Cakra Vikasana next, with krama exhale.  Connecitng with digestive fire.  After five repetitions with great attention to the navel, chanting on first half of exhale Ogm Suvah.  Rest.

Virbhadrasana with mudra.... hands to heart center (base center of ribcage.  Inhale hands/arms open wide (feel the air inside the chest for a short retention), exhale hands to mouth to feel the air escaping.  Drop hands to heart center to repeat.  After five repetitions to connect with the air element, chant on ex Om Mahah.  Catch the last ha sound in your hands.  Repeat both sides no chanting then alternate again for chanting set.

Uttanasana with Jalandhara Bandha and arm gesture - Inhale arms sweep out in space.  Retain, drop the chin (slight jalandhara bandha).  Exhale, firm belly and bend forward, tracking the hands down the backs of the thighs.  Five repetitions to connect with the space all around... then chant Om Janah on exhale.

Minor lateral with hands in anjali mudra, index finger against third eye point.  Keeping an internal focus (individual consciousness), inhale and create lateral flexion to one side.  Exhale to center (this movement is wonderfully small and cocoon-ish).  Repeat five times to each side silently.  Then chant Om Tapah on ex (five times to each side, second set).

Finally, Tadasana with the arm mudra for Ogm Satyam.  Five repetitions silent.  Five repetitions with the chant active.

Stand in stillness.  Profound stillness.

Chant the Gayatri three times.

Counter pose to prepare for pranayama (maybe just cakra vikasana or maybe vajrasana, supine twist, and apanasana).

Pranayama four repetitions of nadi sodhana for each cakra point ascending.  Just sense energy point, don't worry about mental chanting.   (Clear the nadis for optimum central channel openness).

Rest in silent stillness.

Take a savasana.  Tour the realms then drift.  See the picture at the top?  There's a stone/mountain.  The waves lapping the shore.  Maybe further on there's a beach campfire raging tall.  The fire burns smoke into the air above it...maybe a kite flies in the wind.  The sky background opens up into infinite space.  The individual consciousness exists.  And then merges into All-That-Is.

Rest for 5-7 minutes.

Chant the Gayatri 3x, from soft to loud.

Best. Class. Ever.  I was so crystalline-ly present for hours afterwards.  I had to do this practice the next day!!!  And hopefully as a regular occurrence for the next while.

Friday, May 15, 2015

Pants that button?

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I figure if I'm going to share my struggles... I ought to share my successes too!

Today I'm wearing pants that button.  It's been many months of pants with elastic tops?!?!!?  (God save you L.L. Bean.)  I just randomly tried on some pants that button... and...

They fit.

This feels like a minor miracle.  Just as I am reading about in A Course in Weightloss by Marianne Williamson.

According to A Course in Miracles, "Miracles occur naturally as expressions of love. Within the sacred love within your heart, miracles are in infinite supply.  The course is not about your relationship with food; it is about your relationship with love, and your relationship with yourself.  Miracles occur naturally when you remember who you are...  It is... humble, not arrogant, to accept the divine perfection of your true self. 
This is the love I want to build within!  The love that helps me to care for myself and to slow myself down.

Even in the midst of all this "uncontrollable chaos" just trying to eat three meals a day has been helping me move toward my goals.  Thank you Lean Habits!

I've also been practicing some powerful thought exercises (affirmations at strategic times) found in The Only Diet There Is by Sondra Ray.

I think I'll keep right on at it...

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Eating three meals a day when life gets hectic is tough.

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These eating and other compulsive behaviors are so hot right now.  It is exactly correlated with me having an increase in contact hours with students and a crazy schedule.  In the next ten days I'm seeing one person 3 times and another once.  I am subbing for an advanced Viniyoga group that I sometimes see.  I also have full time job and one other group class that I teach.  Oh, yeah, and... next Wednesday is my son's fourth birthday and next Sunday is a big party... we have guests coming in.

It's easy to say that I'm so busy and it's causing a deep rebellion inside of me.  What's harder is to go deeper, and see that the anger and fury is over the fact that nothing ever seems to come out of my schedule, it only seems to get piled on higher and deeper.

I'm managing to eat three meals a day these last few days, but I did have an ice cream incident over the weekend, we'll just call it.  No guilt... moving on!  But ice cream is an old "danger" food, and I've analyzed it in therapy as well - cool, creamy, mother's milk type stuff.  Sometimes good for hot anger, sometimes a balm for sadness.

Though the first habit of Lean Habits is to eat 3-4x a day, I always try to stick to three meals.  That leaves me room for a beer after dinner.  Sometimes these days I have a beer with dinner and a beer after dinner (or a glass of wine).  I know that I'm saving that fourth meal for something that I enjoy during this epic workfest as a means of managing stress (not the best way, but a way...).  I'm still getting to bed most days having consumed less than I used to.  I believe I"m on my way toward creating a deficit, even in the face of some of the longest hours I've ever worked.

As I finish these case studies, I will get to the point where I only have one more full four visit case study left to finish my training.  I am planning to give myself June as a break while I reach out to the healthcare community to find a third client dealing with Rheumatoid Arthritis.  I'll have a couple more contact hours to add beyond that for my practicum, but knowing that I can see previous clients to fill those hours rather than having to document a whole extra case is fantastic.  I document all my work using SOAP notes and short and longterm treatment goals.  However keeping these notes and compiling a case study are two different beasts!

I was lucky to receive the work of an AVI graduate Aggie Stewart in advance of my recent work in Rhuematoid Arthritis.  She published a fabulous piece that helped me prepare for my work with my next few clients dealing with this condition.

Stewart, Aggie.  "Joint Ventures: Helping Those With Rheumatoid Arthritis Live Well."  International Journal of Yoga Therapy No. 23 (2) 2013

I was reminded of the importance of joint protection and also reminded that the primary focus of RA treatment is breath work.  All else leads to breath work.  I know the intention is to soothe, to activate the parasympathetic nervous system... secondarily to activate the circulation with some standing postures... but generally to work in a langhana direction.

Aggie's article specifically reminded me to put breath first... meaning to spend a good deal of instruction time with the breath before moving into gentle asana.  She also reminded me of the art of the break... with the suggestion that one of her clients had used the moment when the mug is warm and full of tea as a way of sending soothing to the fingers.  I loved that!  The last suggestion that seems small but is so important (and had sort of slipped off my radar) was to get the joints moving before putting weight on them in the morning.  Just gentle flexing and extending of the fingers, the toes, the wrists, and the ankles.

So as I type I see the joy this work is bringing me.  Would that I didn't feel at war with myself over it.  Would that some things could fall off my plate instead of the plate getting ever bigger.  And as the plate gets bigger with responsibilities, my hunger grows deeper.  But it's not for food.  It's for me to slow down.


Monday, May 11, 2015

Saving an awesome video for later...

Loaded Movement, Mobiization, Flexibility During Pregnancy from Jenny Burrell on Vimeo.

Relief, Arrival, Awe

Image compliments of by Dr. William C. Welch, Extension Horticulturist, Texas Cooperative Extension
I had a wonderful Mother's Day.  After a leisurely morning including an extended yoga practice and ceremony for the Divine Mother, I went to The Spa at Stoweflake, which is my happy place.  I got the Shirodhara treatment, which involves warmed oil flowing over the forehead.  The utter relaxation this causes in me is so dreamy and wonderful.  I was fully "under," or passed out, but not in a sleep state - in a state of deep relaxation that I find so tonic for the nervous system.  (For more on stress and the autonomic nervous system, check this out.)

I then soaked, lounged, napped, and enjoyed a spinach tofu salad.  After lunch I listened to my man, Reverend Michael Bernard Beckwith, for some spiritual nourishment.

In his sermon, he shared council he had given someone yesterday who was struggling.  Practice this every hour, on the hour.  It was a three-pronged approach that I will share with you.  It will, just like a deeply relaxing spa treatment, contribute to resetting the nervous system.  If you've got a chronically zapped out and fried up nervous system like I do, it needs a good deal of help to not see every moment as some kind of crisis.

1) Relief:  Take a breath to feel a sense of relief at being through the stressful time.
2) Arrival:  I have arrived!  I am here!  I am in the space of knowing I am enough.
3) Awe: Take a look around from this non-stressed vantage point, feeling enough.  Isn't it beautiful? 
Well I can just say that I've had a smile plastered on my face for like 24 hours straight with this!  And it's funny the way the first instruction strikes me - Whew!  I am through that stressful time.  That stressful time?  It's the last 36 years of my life!

I have arrived in a more deep sense of knowing that my spiritual nature exists, is pure, is love, is Divine.  This is great news for me.

And taking a moment to look around, it's all that same Divinity, everywhere I look.  I am surrounded by so much beauty.  And there is pain in the world too, but it is bittersweet.  And the heart-rending sensation of viewing Maya as she is (the material world) is the stuff of true awakening.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Saying No

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Saying no is not something I usually do.  For a long time, being the nice "yes person" was a sure-fire way of being liked.  I tend to be able to suss out the needs and wants of others before they come to the surface, and for years I used this as a skill to endear myself to others.  And even, at times, as a tool of manipulation.

The ability to discern what others want before they even know they want them... comes from being on eggshells when I was younger, trying to avoid wrathful interactions with my mother (with whom I am on good terms today).  Turning this survival mechanism into a skill seems like a positive progression, but I see now that there are deeper pitfalls behind it.

Living by discerning the needs of others has a downside.  My deeper connection to what is right for me has been covered over by the needs and wants of others.  What is right for me may come through that still small voice that Marianne Williamson talks about - that connection to soul, to truth, and ultimately to God (as you understand he/she/it.)  Of course the still small voice is a biblical reference originally (Kings 19:11-13).

How does this relate to compulsive eating?

As I say yes to everyone else's needs I put my needs last - I see that I say no to myself on a regular basis.  

Saying yes around food seems like the only indulgence I have left.  When you give your time and your attention away for others, there is little time for cultivating personal joy... fun experiences... fulfilling needs like meditation and prayer.  Food provides an endorphin rush, a way of saying yes to myself that takes no time.  It is my time that I give away to others and refuse to give to myself.

It is painful to paint these truths in words.  I've been in therapy 7.5 years, which is where I explore these themes over. And over. And over again.  I see it writ large and yet I do it again and again.  

However, with some of the yoga tools I've been learning recently, I can also learn to see above, below, and around the psychodrama.  In my practice every morning I end in meditation - only for about seven minutes or so (I'd love to stay longer).  But my goal is to be in the prior state.  The place before the drama arises.  I am loving awareness, as Ram Dass says.  The drama about where my patterns have come from, what damage and good they've done, how I keep repeating them...  There's also a bigger perspective available that is just space, just love, just open wide in awareness.

I look forward to seeing how the contact with this loving awareness prior to the drama will help shift the drama as it plays out.  If you feel like meditation might help you and you're curious about some wonderful free resources, head over hereTara Brach New to Meditation Online Resources.